To mark Jamaica’s independence 50 years ago, a group of nationals in the Greater Toronto Area (GTA) hosted a gala and a month later established the Jamaican Canadian Association (JCA), which has been a leading voice for Jamaicans and other disadvantaged groups over the last five decades.
The JCA is a hybrid organization performing two distinct but equally valuable functions in the community. It has a strong commitment to serving its large membership base while, at the same time, delivering critical social services through full and part-time paid professional staff.
Member of Parliament Judy Sgro and York West Member of Provincial Parliament Mario Sergio recently joined nearly 700 members and supporters at the organization’s 50th anniversary celebration.
In his keynote address, Jamaican Senator K.D. Knight said the JCA is a beacon in the community and its accomplishments should be celebrated.
“Tonight is a night to celebrate those who had the foresight to form an association of this kind and those who have shown the fortitude to sustain it,” said the former Minister of National Security & Justice and Foreign Affairs & Foreign Trade.
“I feel compelled to applaud you for the task could not have been easy…This is an association with a rich history of service, caring and contribution, not only to those beloved Jamaicans in times of need, but to Canada. What you have done is help to assimilate the Jamaican culture so seamlessly into this environment that the name Jamaica can be called with pride.”
Knight paid tribute to nationals – many of whom are affiliated with the JCA – who are making remarkable contributions in their adopted homeland.
Michael Tulloch recently became the first African-Canadian to be elevated to the provincial appellate court, Toronto Police Service Deputy Chief Peter Sloly is the highest-ranking Black Canadian police officer, Raymond Chang, Michael Lee-Chin and Delores Lawrence are highly successful entrepreneurs and Margarett Best is a member of the provincial parliament following in the footsteps of Alvin Curling and Mary-Anne Chambers.
“It’s no mean achievement to have professionals of all descriptions making Canada greater and adding to its cosmopolitan feature,” Knight said. “And each time we at home hear of the hurdles you have overcome, the barriers you have broken down and the rivers you have crossed to reach these new heights, we celebrate with you and the name Jamaica becomes sweeter and dearer to us…Jamaicans are intellectual giants at all levels; name it, we have done it. Our sons and daughters in the Diaspora can truly be celebrated.”
As Jamaica prepares to observe its golden independence anniversary on August 6, Knight said there is much to celebrate in light of the many challenges the country has faced.
“We can be proud of the fact that, over the last 50 years, we have institutionalized the democratic way of life as our chosen political path to development,” he said. “Every government administration, be it PNP (People’s National Party) or JLP (Jamaica Labour Party), has contributed to the growth and development of our country. As strong a PNP supporter as I am, I could never take the myopic view that development has taken place only under my party. That is not so. It’s a tribute to our politicians that we can say that in the latter part of the first 50 years, there is – for the most part – continuity of good policies and programs. The dialogue between the two party leaders is certainly far more civil than in yesteryear and far more purposeful. That augurs well for democracy.”
Elected a Member of Parliament in 1989, Knight was instrumental in establishing Jamaica’s first modern remand centre and he piloted several pieces of legislature, including the Corruption Prevention Act.
Corruption remains prevalent in Jamaica, which is a concern to the former United Nations Security president. Since the start of the year, The Jamaica Constabulary Force has charged approximately 50 of its own members and civilians for engaging in dishonest practices while on the job.
“Corruption distorts the economy and brings about amorality in our lives,” Knight said. “We know it’s puerile and we can’t allow it. All of us have a responsibility to help stop it. When you are asked for a bribe, don’t give it. There are institutions in Jamaica where you can report it and the matter will be appropriately dealt with.”
To observe the golden jubilee anniversary, the JCA recognized several of its members.
Founding president Roy Williams and educator Kamala-Jean Gopie – the organization’s first female president – were honoured with Trailblazer Awards while Amy Nelson was the recipient of the Legacy Award.
A founding member, Nelson helped draft the JCA’s constitution and arranged a community meeting at the then Central YMCA on College St. where it was accepted. She also founded the Caribbean Seniors Association, lobbied politicians in Ottawa for enhanced health care for senior citizens and played a key role in the organization acquiring its own building.
“This building is my home and if I die today, this is my legacy,” she said. “My only concern is that this organization is not doing enough to assist those with critical needs. We have, in my opinion, become too much of a social organization.”
A surgical nurse by training, Nelson came to Canada in 1958 to work at the Toronto General Hospital’s ophthalmology unit. She was the only Black surgical nurse at the time.
Former president Herman Stewart, Norma Clarke, Sheila Raymond and Ismay Murray were presented with Lifetime Achievement Awards while Phyllis Walker, Eunice Graham, Violet Dennison and Alvin Knight were honoured with 25-year Service Awards.
Pam Reynolds was the recipient of the Outstanding Volunteer Award, Lisa Marshall was presented with the President’s Award and Dr. Ezra Nesbeth received the Community Service Award.
Among the first set of donors when the JCA launched its scholarship program a decade ago, Dr. Nesbeth has donated nearly $170,000.
“It makes me feel good to know that I can help young people achieve their educational goals,” he said. “One of the most beautiful experiences for me is to see them doing well.”
Raised in St. Elizabeth, Jamaica, Nesbeth came to Canada in 1966 and finished high school at Jarvis Collegiate Institute before going to Ryerson University, the Universities of Toronto and Waterloo.
After completing post-doctoral studies in Health Science and Psychopathology in the United States, he worked as a consultant with the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) and the World Health Organization, developing community health programs for various jurisdictions.
He was also head of Clinical Education at the Clinical Institute Addiction Research Foundation in Toronto, a consultant with the Clark Institute of Psychiatry and an assistant professor in Applied Psychology at the University of Toronto.
As head of Employee Health at Ontario Power Generation, Nesbeth played a pivotal role in convincing the board of directors to start a scholarship program for Black students to honour the memory of William Hubbard, Toronto’s first Black councillor who successfully ran for public office at age 51 in the late 1890s and served as deputy mayor and acting mayor.
JCA president Audrey Campbell congratulated the award winners and thanked the volunteers for the countless hours they have given to the organization.
By RON FANFAIR